Oak Aged Sauvignon Blind Wine Tasting at London Cru

1407 Bottle shot

A blind tasting of oaked Sauvignons from around the world on the 3rd July at London Cru, organised by Jean-Christophe Mau and Richard Bampfield MW was a welcome opportunity to revisit West London’s ‘flavour of the month’ venue, as well, of course, to taste an interesting and perhaps overlooked category. Richard’s invitation proposed that: “ as Sauvignon Blanc is so ubiquitous and producers will need to work harder to add value and create their points of difference in future, the use of oak will become more widespread”.

The tasting was very well attended; all the luminaries of the world of wine journalism were there (including me), so there must be something to Richard’s assertion. I think we have become submerged in the overpoweringly citrus and fruit-some (Marlborough, mainly, but not exclusively) unoaked version, to the exclusion of the more traditional, complex perhaps, version.

Overall, I found most very good; my lowest mark was 15/20. Looking back over the crib sheet, my high marks (18-19) were fairly evenly distributed between old and new world. In my notes I did record a less prominent fruit in many of the old world ones, and low marks to some French ones where the oak seemed a bit dried and resinous, and not supported by sufficient fruit, but I really liked the integration of oak in Didier Dagueneau’s Pur Sang 2008. It was surprisingly fresh, not showing its six years of age, other than in the oak (fermented and aged in new oak) integration. In my notes I see ‘Fumé style’ against this wine, which is encouraging for my tasting skills as the wines were blind. Happily, since this was their tasting, I gave a good blind rating to Ch. Brown 2012, which I found attractively toasty and spicy. I wasn’t as negative as I expected to be about heavily oaked new world styles, in fact as long as the fruit wasn’t dominated I found several with really well-integrated, classy oak, again in the ‘Fumé’ style; Jordan ‘The Outlier’ 2012 in Stellenbosch, Terre a Terre 2013 in Wrattonbully, and Chimney rock, Elevage Blanc 2010 in Napa stood out for me in this style. My highest mark (19, I don’t do 20) went to Valdivieso’s Wild Fermented Leyda 2012, aged for 11 months in 500L French oak, and good marks to most of the Bordeaux blends with Semillon (although there weren’t many).

I think Richard and Jean-Chiristophe are right that this is a rewarding category. Value is added in the complexity and broader, spicier flavours of the oaked versions, particularly when this is not to the detriment of the brightness of fruit, and that applies to both old and new world versions. I’m just rushing off to buy some oak-aged Chilean Sauvignon now!

‘Classic’ and ‘Balanced’ Wines in Saint Emilion

‘Classic’ and ‘Balanced’ Wines at L’Association  de Grands Crus Classés de Saint Emilion Tasting

Altitude 360, 5th June 2013


The annual tasting of Saint Emilion Grands Crus Classés took place at the trendy and spacious Altitude 360 in Pimlico. This year, vintages on show were 2009 and 2010, so the growers had little to apologize for. That said, Ch. Faurie de Souchard was one of those hit by hail in May in 2009, Thibaud Sciard, presenting the wines, described to us the difficulty of losing 90% of his crop as a result.


Otherwise, the wines were largely as expected, with only good surprises, really. The reputation of these two vintages is well known, not only due to the comments of a certain American with the same name as a pen, but also because of the interest and ‘buzz’ that two magnificent vintages in a row creates; everyone has written about them.


Don’t you love Bordeaux euphemisms? ‘Classic’ is a word often wheeled out to excuse unripe wines from a poor year; this time, though, it seems to work for the 2010s. They are anything but unripe, and have a deep coloured, dark fruited spicy character, and aniceed freshness. ‘Balance’ is used in a different context, often to justify high alcohol, and again the sceptic in me wakes up when I hear it. However, I tasted all three of Jacques Capdemourlin’s 2010s, Châteaux Balestard le Tonnelle, Cap de Mourlin, and Petit Faurie de Soutard (please note the similar spelling to Faurie de Souchard, above; they are indeed two different châteaux, it’s just part of that adorable French complication). Part of my note to the Balestard la Tonnelle reads: “A huge mouthful of tannin and acidity, balanced by ripe and generous black fruit”. Thierry Capdemourlin pointed out alcohol levels of, 15, 15.5 and 15.5%, in order, for these three wines, but talked of the balance, and my note confirms this. The alcohol didn’t stand out in any of these, nor in any of the other wines I tasted on the day.


My tasting notes are repetitive. Big, ripe, soft fruited 2009s, with red, sweet Merlot fruit, lowish acidity, and velvety tannins, drinking well now, and more angular, serious, spicy (both words versions, I suspect, of ‘classic’, a word I don’t really use) 2010s, with “A huge mouthful of tannin and acidity, balanced by ripe and generous black fruit”. Have I said that before?


Another common theme appears to be the consultant Michel Rolland; he’s everywhere. I recently read a cartoon book called “Robert Parker Les Sept Péchés capiteux” (The seven ‘heady’ sins), by Benoist Simmat and drawn by Philippe Bercovici, which portrays Big Bob colluding with Michel Rolland to homogenize the flavour of Bordeaux and create a ‘Parker taste’ (‘capiteux’, in the title, translates as ‘heady’ while ‘capitaux’ is deadly, which would be the more familiar expression). It’s a great book, by the way, very witty (if you are a wine nerd, otherwise you won’t understand it) but it hasn’t been translated. It is, of course, satirical, but most of the Rolland consulted wines seemed to show a full, chocolaty, extracted character, and high alcohol (none less than 14%), but those are also characteristics of both vintages. The three from Capdemourlin above are all consulted by his laboratory.


One exception to this was Château Grand Corbin d’Espagne. François d’Espagne, the very affable owner, explained that he was fully organically certified, and trying out biodynamic production. He tried to point to this fact in the otherwise very well-presented fact sheet that accompanied each estate’s page, but it wasn’t there. He remarked that, although he did inform them, the Association must have omitted to print this information (a bit of Bordeaux politics, perhaps)? His wines of both vintages showed a charming harmony, with easy acidity, melted but prominent tannins, and yes, great balance, even classics. They were still 14% (2009), and 14.5% (2010).


An enjoyable and informative tasting of two great vintages. If the following one features 2011 and 2012, a different set of euphemisms will come to the fore. Anyone who hasn’t been living on Mars for the last few years will be familiar with the financial sector’s descriptors of choice: challenging, and difficult. Bordeaux has added a new variant to these two for the 2012 vintage: A winemaker’s vintage (but aren’t all vintages)? Maybe the turnout will be lower for that one.

Wine Tasting Parties for Christmas

Wine tasting parties have in the past been considered something that only people with a good knowledge of wines would appreciate and understand, but with shops and wine bars offering a bigger selection and whole shelves of wines within people’s price range to choose from, people are now keen to understand what they are drinking and find more kinds of wines to enjoy for different occasions and event. London wine events are springing up all over the place, and cater for people with all budgets and from all walks of life, and there is no reason that you cannot enjoy an evening learning about wine; how to enjoy it and what you like, without feeling out of your depth or uncomfortable.

There are events available for wine tasting London wide, and no matter what your budget or how many there are of you, there is bound to be something you will enjoy this Christmas. There are a range of venues, from warm and cosy bars to larger halls and events centres. There is something for everyone so if you are looking for a different night out this Christmas and a somewhat educational experience, we know you will find something that appeals.

The whole evening can be as relaxed as you want. We offer as much information on the different wines as you want; the region they were grown in, the type of grape, the history and reasons for the difference in tastes depending on the year. We can also offer suggestions on what you might enjoy based on your current preferences. The professionals that run our wine tasting London wide are trained to be approachable and make the evening fun. We run quizzes and games, and there is plenty of time to either socialise within your group or meet new people.

If you are looking for something new and fun to try this Christmas, wine tasting is a natural seasonal activity. We supply all kinds of wines including some festive treats, and you can pick some new favourites ready for Christmas as well as impress your friends and family with your new found knowledge of everything sealed with a cork. Give us a call to discuss the events available in your area and a fun night out.

The London Wine Workshop

A short post this time (the last on on fizz ended up far longer than I expected), and this time to rather shamelessly promote my new venture! I have just set up a group called, rather appropriately, The London Wine Workshop Group. So, if you feel my tirades about Champagne, Italian, and Chilean wines haven’t sated your thirst, why not join my workshop group and learn all you can in a day of wine tasting on the 14th January, with a group of fellow Wine Tasters & lovers, in a trendy pub in Westbourne Park, The Metropolitan?

Click here for more information: The London Wine Workshop Group